Pliny The Younge

Pliny The Younge books and biography

Pliny the Younger

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Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (63-ca. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, an author and a natural philosopher of Ancient Rome.



Born in Comum, Italy, the son of a landowner named Lucius Caecilius and his wife Plinia, Pliny the Younger was also a nephew of Pliny the Elder.

Pliny's father died at an early age; as a result, Pliny probably lived with his mother. His guardian is known to have been Lucius Verginius Rufus, famed for quelling a revolt against Nero. After being first tutored at home, Pliny later travelled to Rome where he furthered his education and was taught rhetoric by the great teacher and author Quintilian and Nicetes Sacerdos of Smyrna. It was at this time that Pliny became closer to his uncle Pliny the Elder and when the elder Pliny died during the Vesuvian eruption, the terms of the will passed the estate to the younger Pliny. In the same document he was adopted by his uncle, a common practice in Roman culture.

Pliny was considered an honest and moderate man and rose through a series of Imperial civil and military offices, the cursus honorum (see below). He was a friend of the historian Tacitus and employed the biographer Suetonius in his staff. Pliny also came into contact with many other well-known men of the period, inculding the philosophers Artemidorus and Euphrates during his time in Syria.

He married three times, firstly when he was about eighteen, secondly to the daughter of Pompeia Celerina at an unknown date and thirdly to Calpurnia, granddaughter of Calpurnus Fabatus of Comum. Letters survive in which Pliny records this latter marriage taking place, as well as his attachment to Calpurnia and his sadness when they were unable to have children.

Pliny is thought to have died suddenly during his appointment in Bithynia-Pontus, around 112, since no events referred to in his letters date later than that.


Pliny's career began at the age of eighteen and followed a normal route through the cursus honorum.

c. 81 One of the presiding judges in the centumviral court (decemvir litibus iudicandis)
c. 81 A standard appointment to the staff of Legio III Gallica in Syria, probably for six months
80s Commander of a cavalry squadron (sevir equitum Romanorum)
Later 80s Entered the Senate
88 or 89 Quaestor attached to the Emperor's staff (quaestor imperatoris)
91 Tribune of the People (tribunus plebis)
93 Praetor
94-96 Prefect of the military treasury (praefectus aerari militaris)
98-100 Prefect of the treasury of Saturn (praefectus aerari Saturni)
100 Consul with Cornutus Tertullus
103-104 Publicly-elected Augur
104-106 Superintendent for the banks of the Tiber (curator alvei Tiberis)
104-107 Three times a member of Trajan's judicial council.
110 The Emperor's ambassador (legatus Augusti) in Bithynia-Pontus

Pliny was active in the Roman legal system, especially in the sphere of the Roman centumviral court, which dealt with inheritance cases. Later, he was well-known for prosecuting (and defending) at the trials of a series of provincial governors, including Baebius Massa, governor of Baetica, Marius Priscus, the governor of Africa, Gaius Caecilius Classicus, governor of Baetica and most ironically in light of his later appointment to this province, Gaius Julius Bassus and Varenus Rufus, both governors of Bithynia-Pontus.

Pliny's career is commonly considered as a summary of the main Roman public charges and is the best-documented example from this period, offering proof for many aspects of imperial culture. Effectively, Pliny crossed all the principal fields of the organization of the early Roman Empire. It is no mean achievement for a man to have not only survived the reigns of several disparate emperors, especially the much-detested Domitian, but also to have risen in rank throughout.


As a litterateur, Pliny started writing at the age of fourteen, penning a tragedy in Greek. In the course of his life he wrote a quantity of poetry, most of which was lost despite the great affection he had for it. Also known as a notable orator, he professed himself a follower of Cicero, but his prose was certainly more magniloquent and less direct than Cicero's. The only oration that now survives is the Panegyricus Trajani. This was pronounced in the Senate in 100 and is a description of Trajan's figure and actions in an adulatory and emphatic form, especially contrasting him with the Emperor Domitian. It is, however, a relevant document that allows us to know many details about the Emperor's actions in several fields of his administrative power such as taxes, justice, military discipline, and commerce. Pliny defined it as an essay about the optimus princeps (the perfect ruler).


However, the largest body of work of Pliny's which survives is without doubt his Letters (Epistulae), a series of personal missives directed to his friends and associates. These letters are a unique testimony of Roman administrative history and everyday life in the 1st century. The style is very different from that in the Panegyricus and some commentators affirm that Pliny was the initiator of a new particular genre: the letter written for publication. This genre offers a different type of record to the more usual history; one which dispenses with objectivity but is no less valuable for it.

The Epistulae are usually treated as two halves: those in Books 1 to 9, which Pliny prepared for publication, and those in Book 10, all of which were written to or by the Emperor Trajan during Pliny's governorship of Bithynia-Pontus. This final book was, significantly, not intended for publication.

Books 1-9

Highlights of these books include Pliny's description of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the death of his uncle and mentor, Pliny the Elder (VI.16 and 20). Volcanic eruptions of this type are now referred to as Plinian. The first letter (I,1), directed to Gaius Septicius Clarus, is also notable for giving Pliny's reasons for collecting his letters. Those which give details of Pliny's life at his country villas are important documents in the history of garden design. They are the world's oldest sources of the information on how gardens were used in the ancient world and the considerations which went into their design.

The content of this section of the letters evolves over time. Pliny's career as a young man is very fully described in the earlier letters, which include tributes to notable figures such as Marcus Valerius Martialis, Pliny's protege (III.21). Advice is offered to friends, references are given, political support is discussed and Pliny comments on many other aspects of Roman life, using established literary style. However, by the last two books the subject matter is more contemplative.

Chronologically, it is suggested that Books 1 to 3 were written between 97 and 102, Books 4 to 7 were composed between 103 and 107 and Books 8 and 9 cover 108 and 109. These books were probably intermittently published between 99 and 109.

Book 10

As already mentioned, the letters of Book 10 are addressed to or from the Emperor Trajan in their entirety, and it is generally assumed that we have received them verbatim. As such, they offer a unique insight into the administrative functions of a Roman province of the time, as well as the machinations of the Roman system of patronage and wider cultural mores of Rome itself. In addition, the corruption and apathy which occurred at various levels of the provinicial system can be seen clearly. Of especial significance is X.96, which is the earliest external account of Christian worship and reasons for the execution of Christians.

The letter regarding Christians deserves mention because the contents of it were, in the view of many historians, to become the standard policy toward Christians for the rest of the pagan era. Taken together, Pliny and Trajan's letters constituted a fairly loose policy toward Christians. Christians were not to be sought out, but punished if brought before a magistrate by a reputable means of accusation (no anonymous charges were permitted) and they were to be given the opportunity to recant. While some persecutions represent a departure from this policy, many historians have concluded that these precedents were nominal for the Empire across time.

Fortunately, Trajan's replies to Pliny's queries and requests were also collected for publication, making the anthology even more valuable as well as increasing its readability. The letters thus allow us a wonderful glimpse of the personalities of both Pliny and Trajan.

Stylistically, Book 10 is much simpler than its precursors because it was not intended for publication by Pliny. It is generally assumed that this book was published after Pliny's death, and Suetonius, as a member of Pliny's staff, has been suggested as one possible editor.


  • [1949] (2003) Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth (eds.): Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1198. ISBN 0-19-860641-9.
  • Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus [1963] (1969). The Letters of the Younger Pliny, trans. Betty Radice, London, England: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044127-1.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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